The award for the best portrayal of a wolf on Broadway goes to . . . a dog. And not just any dog. As anyone who has seen director Ivo van Hove’s scary-brilliant revival of “The Crucible” can tell you, there is a moment when you swear a wolf walks onto the stage.
He looks out beyond the audience as if lost in thoughts about wilderness and, just maybe, about the witches said to be loose in Arthur Miller’s masterwork about hysteria and hypocrisy in Salem, Massachusetts.
Then he hears the mumble of people approaching from one side of the theater and, instantly, disappears out the other side, returning, we’re absolutely sure, to the dark woods from which he came.
Meet Luchta, a new Broadway star that, for his moment upon the stage, seems to be as stunning an actor as Saoirse Ronan, Ben Whishaw and the other luminaries in the revival. In fact, Luchta is an 18-month-old Tamaskan, a relatively new and rare breed of dog that combines the wolfiest looking qualities of a German shepherd, a malamute and a husky. Tamaskans also play wolves in “Game of Thrones.”
He is on loan from his loving human family in Seattle. For his eight-month excellent showbiz adventure, his best friend is William Berloni, the Tony-winning animal whisperer whose Broadway impact goes all the way back to rescuing the first Sandy from a shelter for the first “Annie” in 1977.
“Ivo told the producer that he wanted a wolf in the show,” Berloni told me while we hung out with Luchta in his comfy but not showy dressing room. Berloni, knowing it’s illegal in most states to have wolves or wolf hybrids, found out about the Tamaskans, investigated quality breeders and found just two candidates who might be available through mid-July. The other one was in Croatia.
Berloni, who is also the director of animal behavior at the Humane Society of New York, contacted the Wolf Sanctuary, located in — no kidding — Salem, New York, where he often lectures about wolf conservation. He researched some differences between wolf and dog behavior. For starters, wolves often have their heads and tails down. Dogs, well, you know dogs.
He and Luchta take long walks near the Intrepid before each performance, which keeps both happy and makes the growing pup really tired before his showcase. That way, as Berloni puts it, “he sort of mopes onstage. That resembles that slow, ominous walk of a wolf, but he’s just tired.”
Berloni believes Luchta is the first nonhuman to play a different species on Broadway. No one wants to spoil the illusion, so just know that cookies and Luchta’s favorite stuffed green alligator are not irrelevant to his dramatic motivation. Concentration is invaluable. Also, since Miller never mentioned a wolf, he doesn’t have an understudy.